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Sunday, November 30, 2014


We used to hold hands and spin in circles on the playground until we couldn’t hold on any more and wobbled around before falling down and laughing.  There was a push-action metal top at Grandpa’s house.  I sent it wobbling across the floor over and over and over.  He had a gyroscope too.  I stacked blocks until they wobbled and crashed down all over the floor.  The word for the week makes me think of a lot of wobbling play, not the least of which is learning to ride my too-big bike on a tar and chip road.  I’ve still got the scars.

Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.”  My little brothers loved Weebles and we sang that a lot.

Sometimes I wish life were still so simple.  I woke up thinking about work problems, then the fact that I have to drink 32 oz. of water in an hour this week for a medical test, and then I remembered that Mickey died on Friday.  Life sucks.  That’s 3 people for me in November, so if deaths really go by 3s then I guess I’m done?

I don’t know if I feel physically wobbly from all the stresses, but I feel emotionally wobbly.  Or maybe just bone tired from dealing with life and funerals.  I’d rather sit on the floor with the jacks my sister got me for my birthday.  1s… 2s… 3s… start over, 1s… 2s…

I played jacks a lot when I was a kid which is why she gave them to me now.  Life wasn’t perfect then, but the simple act of counting and bouncing was a calm in the storm.  Sometimes I would count before going to sleep and wake up in the morning still counting.

Sometimes I wonder if other people ever learned to calm themselves?  There was a time that my niece was having a fit and struggled to breathe between tears.  I put her on my lap and told her to ignore the instigators.  Breathe!  A ragged sob inward.  Good.  Do it again!  A slightly less ragged inward sob.  I rocked her back and forth and kept reminding her to breathe between new sobs of the unjust world.  She finally got herself together and then the instigators had to start up again, but at least she found that she had the power to control herself.

Sometimes I need to remind myself that I have that same power.  Unclench my jaw and fists and breathe.  Tomorrow hasn’t happened yet, nothing I can do about the past, just breathe.  Remember the happy times when Mickey came through the door 40 years ago, all smiles and handsomeness, ravioli, back step talks while we marginally watched the grill or maybe the kids in the back yard.  Little moments, but important to my feelings of acceptance and affection.

I baked cookies from the recipe Sharon sent me.  I’m pretty sure ginger, cocoa, and sugar solve at least some problems.  Thanks Sharon!  Cookies will go great with the post-Thanksgiving soup I made yesterday.  Today I’ll help make 200 meatballs for the post-funeral lunch.

And in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the people who have made my life better.  Perhaps all these funerals are a reminder to appreciate all the important people who have already passed on and appreciate the people still living while we’ve got them.

My deepest sympathies to the Caine/Rosato families and to all of Mickey’s many friends.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


I said something was “slower than molasses in wintertime” and my girlfriend asked “what’s molasses?”  A: a viscous by-product of sugar refinement (Southern variation sorghum, British variation black treacle).  Cooking tip… instead of brown sugar, which gets hard if you don’t use it often, add molasses to regular white sugar when a recipe calls for brown sugar.

Sometimes I wish I still lived in a world when knowing about molasses meant something and times were slow enough for me to make cookies from scratch.  Oh alright, I could make them today if I felt like it, but do I need any more cookies?  I just want some of my obsolete skills to be valued.

Which leads me to one of those seasonal push-me pull-me moments.  Sometimes I like to cook, but I don’t like it when I’m expected to cook.  Cooking can get expensive and I dislike it when men won’t pull their weight in the kitchen.  But then, I’m actually pretty good at cooking, and I like to feel appreciated. 

What to do, what to do?

Last week I made clam chowder.  I noticed a surprising amount of it was missing the next day.  I asked my brother if he’d eaten it.  Yes.  Did you like it?  YES.  Good.  Even better that he washed the dishes.  See, that’s all I really need for positive reinforcement.  I might make clam chowder again sometime.  This brother has always known how to work me.  I might let him have some cranberries and non-dairy pumpkin pie this week.

I work around some staff and volunteers whose life work has been cooking for their loving families.  They’re the last of a dying breed I think.  Most people seem to “make” cookies by scooping out pre-made batter from the grocery store, plopping it on a baking sheet, bake 10 minutes, and general acclaim by the recipients.  I’m pretty sure that my cookies with butter and eggs will make my loved ones live longer.

When my grandma was alive, she spent most of her time in the kitchen.  She didn’t have to do all the other stuff that I have to do in a day, at least in my lifetime.  When she was young she was a single parent had to work and support her sons, and I’m sure that was very hard.  After she married my grandpa I bet she was grateful to spend days perfecting her recipe for white cake.

It’s not all about cakes and cookies either.  I told my brother I had a yen for greens.  What kind?  All kinds -- turnip greens, mustard, collards.  I got collards.  They were in the fridge the next day and I spent who knows how long washing, chopping, simmering, and especially thinking that I have to be careful about out loud yens if my wish fulfillment was going to work out this well.  I suggested that a free-range turkey might be a good idea.  We’ll see if that shows up.

My view is that we lived better when we ate better, and best yet when we ate together.  I hope everyone has a warm and loving Thanksgiving this week, and for those of you outside the US, please join us in the best of holidays when the point of everything is to slow down long enough be with people you love, sharing gratitude for all of the good that comes into our lives.  And yeah, good food :)

Saturday, November 15, 2014


I don’t suppose many people think of Cleveland as a booming theater town, but it is.  We like our shows.  Our theaters are more beautiful than the ones I’ve seen on Broadway, but we almost lost them all.

PlayhouseSquare consists of 5 grand theaters.  They were built 1921-22 for plays, silent films, and vaudeville.  When people moved to suburbs the theaters suffered.  All but one of the theaters were boarded up by the 60s.  Rain dripped through the ceilings, the ornate plasterwork turned into damp sludge, murals molded…

The theaters were a mess, and the city wanted to tear them down – which bothered some people so badly that they got together and saved them.  It was a heroic effort, and I was fortunate to be working downtown and see a lot of it going on, even more fortunate to be able to work in one of the theaters while the artisans stripped things down and redid everything.  The before and afters were amazing.

It was the “world’s largest theater restoration project,” and now Cleveland has the country’s largest theatrical center outside New York City.  More than 1 million people attend each year.

When I was in Chicago recently, I told my friend about getting a backstage tour of the Chicago Theater.  My bf and I were peeping through the windows when the janitor saw us.  He took us on a private tour of back halls and showed us where the greats of bygone ages dressed and the pieces parts of a complex that fills an entire city block – which at the time was showing a B movie to a scant audience.  It’s one of those special experiences that remains vivid to me.  Seeing the Chicago Theater unloved makes me even prouder of Cleveland.

I love shows.  The fact that I’m soft-spoken and introverted might make you think that I wouldn’t appreciate grand, theatrical expression, or that I’d actually run a community theater, yet I did.  I even ran the program at a profit, which you won’t hear from anybody else.  I loved being backstage, just like being backstage in Chicago.

I cried during a flute audition, laughed at dance auditions, scratched my head over the sound and lighting systems, sold advertising, begged audiences to fill out contact information, browbeat the director, thanked the cast and volunteers, set up chairs, helped cook for dinner theaters…

Loved it.  I didn’t know how to do any of it before taking that job either.  Sure, I had cooked before, or done advertising, and other things like that, but nobody told me how to put it all together.  Maybe if I’d known how much was involved I might’ve been too overwhelmed to try, but I didn’t know, so I just did it.  I bet the people who saved PlayhouseSquare didn’t know how hard it was going to be to save a theater district either, but look at what they did.  It’s gorgeous, and a joy to everyone who goes to a show.

If there’s anything to take away from all this, it’s try.  What is the theater about anyway?  Fantasy makes the world go round.  First we have to be able to dream it, then we can do something to make our dreams come true.

P.S. Thanks for everyone’s kind thoughts in response to the sad news that my friend died last week.  I especially appreciate your prayers for her husband, Tim. 

P.P.S. My coworker Sue lost her husband this weekend.  Please remember Sue and her family in your thoughts and prayers too. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014


I have a sensual relationship with paper.  Coarse paperbacks, silky Bristol board, wispy rice paper… Mmmm…  I think this started when I discovered construction paper in vivid primary and secondary hues, Mom yelling “Don’t run with scissors!” She didn’t like little bits of paper lying on the floor, but I liked them.  It was like discovering bits of previous inspirations.  Mom just doesn’t understand creative priorities sometimes.  She has a real thing against Legos too.

I’m trying to distract myself today by thinking of happy paper thoughts because what I’m really thinking about how much I hate the newspaper sometimes.  Dad used to read the obituaries every day and say “Well, I’m not in here today!” – until one day he was.

It’s been one of those weeks -- another accident, another irreplaceable person gone, another round of picking up pieces like little bits of construction paper.  The fact that I’ve been through this a number of times doesn’t make it any better; the steps to follow are just more predictable.

Wednesday I had dinner with Toby and her husband Tim.  We laughed and talked and everything was so normal.  I liked the way Toby smiled, and liked figuring ways to make her do it.  When we parted in the parking lot I gave her a hug, thinking about what I wrote last week about touch and hugs.  How could I know that would be the last time I’d get to hug her?

She was warm and smart and funny and everything nice.  I am so going to miss her.

I don’t know why the school bus hit her or how the kids on the bus are affected by being part of an accident like this.  How the bus driver will deal with it?  How can I help Tim in the aftermath of this kind of shock?

I think about how Tim kept loading her plate with zucchini during dinner.  They seemed so well matched and happy together.  It seemed like they had figured out zucchini compatibility and every other kind of sharing a long time ago.  I can only be glad for them that they had that kind of happiness together.

I’m blessed to have known her, so sad I can’t know her longer.

Moving along to the next phase of grief, I’m so POed that I have to deal with this again.  How many other people have to keep burying their friends?  I’ve been going back and forth between sympathy and concern for Tim, anger, sorrow, self-pity… yeah, all the usual stuff.  I know all these feelings are normal and part of the process, but I don’t want to feel these things.  I’d like to be able to just have dinner with Toby again.  We would’ve seen each other again next Saturday and laughed over bagels.  We were regular as clockwork, and now there’s a gaping hole in my monthly calendar.

Life sucks, and then you die.  One of these days it will be my turn.  Meanwhile, please send healing thoughts and prayers to Tim.